Hello, My name is Stephen Fleenor. I was hoping I could share another view of the dangers of technology. Any input is greatly appreciated, I look forward to a discussion with you all.
A review of Ray Kurzweil’s “The Law of Accelerating Returns”
In 2001 a computer scientist named Ray Kurzweil wrote an essay called “The Law of Accelerating Returns”. The essay focuses on the rate technology and change progresses, Ray points out that change has been exponential (the change happens faster and faster) all the way down to evolution. In my view, this “law” even seems to expand all the way into the creation of our universe, we know space is expanding, and the farther a galaxy moves away from us, the faster it moves. He believes technology has been doing the same thing, and it could soon reach a point that humans simply will not be able to keep up with the rate of change, this “Tech Explosion” he refers to as the Singularity, he warns that technology like Artificial Intelligence could soon have control of our destiny.
There is a problem with Ray’s essay though, it leads to some MAJOR skepticism and to be honest, it is pretty “out there”. The essay talks about reverse engineering the human brain, making a digital copy of it, and saving it to a computer (even going as far as talking about the ethics of this). I am an IT professional by trade, so I can kind of understand some of his points that make something like this possible, but the general public will probably discount the entire essay as Science Fiction. As I read the essay, he predicted many things that have come true 18 years later, and they deserve some major attention, especially since we are officially entering an age of Artificial Intelligence.
I my attempt to review this essay for facts and to shed additional light on this broad topic, I searched the internet and found a document that to me at least, is the best source of actual facts regarding Artificial Intelligence that is available; “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE” from the Executive Office of the President, National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology”, released in 2016. I will be using this document and other current technology examples as tools to filter out some truths that skeptics might have otherwise considered Science Fiction.
To start, I would to talk about the product Google just announced will be available in March of 2019 called Duplex. This product is the first taste of real artificial intelligence the public will have. This amazing piece of software will allow our virtual assistant to call and make appointments for us, having a full-blown conversation with the person who answers! Duplex has an eerily human sounding voice, the person on the other end of the call will have no idea they are talking to a virtual assistant in someone’s phone. In Ray’s essay, he states “This is the nature of exponential growth. Although technology grows in the exponential domain, we humans live in a linear world. So technological trends are not noticed as small levels of technological power are doubled. Then seemingly out of nowhere, a technology explodes into view”. The fact that all of a sudden, the phone in my pocket can make a phone call and set an appointment for me, proves this point.
Ray’s essay also states “the future will be far more surprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating”. An immediate realization I had when I heard about Google Duplex was the possibility of many call center employees losing their jobs, I mean, why would a call center not want to replace their biggest expenditure, people? The official United States document “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE” states “AI’s central economic effect in the short term will be the automation of tasks that could not be automated before. This will likely increase productivity and create wealth, but it may also affect particular types of jobs in different ways, reducing the demand for certain skills that can be automated while increasing demand for other skills that are complementary to AI. Analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) suggests that the negative effect of automation will be the greatest on lower-wage jobs, and that there is a risk that AI-driven automation will increase the wage gap between less-educated and more-educated workers, potentially increasing economic inequality. “
Another sign of the changes to come is the death of Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law is an observation from the chairman of Intel (computer processor manufacturer), that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubled every year since their invention. This is basically how our computers have been getting faster, we are stuffing more into them, reducing the distance electrons have to travel, but there is a problem, we are reaching a point where we can no longer do this, there is a physical limit and this progress has plateaued. In Ray’s essay (again, released in 2001), it states “After sixty years of devoted service, Moore’s Law will die a dignified death no later than the year 2019”. Does this mean progress will stop? Don’t bet on it.
Ray talks about what comes next after the death of Moore’s Law, “A specific paradigm (a method or approach to solving a problem, e.g. shrinking transistors on an integrated circuit as an approach to making more powerful computers) provides exponential growth until the method exhausts its potential. When this happens, a paradigm shift (i.e., a fundamental change in the approach) occurs, which enables exponential growth to continue.” Well, that paradigm shift is starting, at CES 2019 (a worldwide showcase of consumer technologies) IBM announced the first commercially available Quantum Computer called IBM Q System One. Right now, this system is as big as a room and not particularly efficient, but soon this new platform of computing will make our current super computers look like the computers we sent to the moon in Apollo 11.
My point is this, Ray’s essay stretches the limit of what is real and science fiction for sure. A lot of his predictions have come true, and they align with our government’s current position. In the document “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”, our government acknowledges the possibility of this Singularity, they state “People have long speculated on the implications of computers becoming more intelligent than humans. Some predict that a sufficiently intelligent AI could be tasked with developing even better, more intelligent systems, and that these in turn could be used to create systems with yet greater intelligence, and so on, leading in principle to an ‘intelligence explosion’ or ‘singularity’ in which machines quickly race far ahead of humans in intelligence. If computers could exert control over many critical systems, the result could be havoc, with humans no longer in control of their destiny at best and extinct at worst”. This is exactly how Ray’s Law of Accelerating Returns works!
If this Singularity is not a threat to us, I highly believe that the distractions of our future will be. The public will not be ready for how fast things can change. We are already struggling with mass depression, technology giants like Facebook already tapping into our primal needs to feel wanted and validated 24/7, taking advantage our dopamine reward system to keep us hooked (Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook did study Psychology after all). At the same time we watch other people creating fake lives of pure adventure and fun with their posts, making others feel worse and worse about their own lives. What could happen when these giants gain access to Quantum Computing technology, and have Artificial Intelligence to sort through the massive amounts of data they are collecting on us? The fight for our attention has never been bloodier. Netflix now spends 85% of their budget on original content, why do you think they can’t seem to produce an original content show that bombs?
Technology has always been a double-edged sword, we are about to see some of the most amazing and mind-blowing things happen. Problems that have plagued our species have the potential to be eradicated once and for all. At the same time, it has never been harder to keep our focus on our important goals. I hope that this may convince some to start looking into the topic with an open mind. If you can stomach the 60+pages of Ray’s essay, I would highly suggest reading it as well. The fight for our lives and attention is here, if even some of these topics are true, now is the time to be preparing.
Kurzweil, Ray. “The Law of Accelerating Returns”. Kurzweil accelerating returns essays. March 7, 2001. http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns
Executive Office of the President “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”. National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology. October 2016
Dignan, Larry. CES 2019: Did IBM just reveal first commercial quantum computer? Between the lines. January 8, 2019. https://www.zdnet.com/article/ibm-at-ces-2019-outlines-q-system-one-quantum-computer/
Spangler, Todd. Netflix Content Chief Says 85% of New Spending Is on Originals. Variety. May 14, 2018. https://variety.com/2018/digital/news/netflix-original-spending-85-percent-1202809623/